Live Longer, Live Better
Three little questions can have big implications on your quality of life in retirement.
Retirement is generally something people look forward to. It's a stage when we have the most control over our lives and, hopefully, the resources and good health to continue to enjoy it. It’s also when we have the most time on our hands. Life expectancy has nearly doubled in the past 100 years, and while we all have a list of exciting things to accomplish as older adults – culinary school, road trips, exotic vacations, weddings, visiting grandchildren, skydiving – the question remains: What will we do with the rest of our time?
There’s a shift happening when it comes to thinking about and planning for retirement. These days, it starts with thinking less about how much you need and more about how you want to live. Many in their 50s, 60s and 70s look at their so-called “golden years” as a golden opportunity to redefine themselves by creating a more purposeful retirement of productivity (learning, working and volunteering) and an active, fulfilling social life.
Of course, finances should still be part of the equation. But, ultimately, the factors that will determine your future quality of life are the most important to hone in on. These three seemingly simple questions, developed by MIT’s AgeLab in conjunction with Hartford Funds, are a great place to start when it comes to taking an integrated approach to living longer and living well.
Who Will Change My Light Bulbs?
This isn’t just about light bulbs, of course. This is a no-brainer when you’re able-bodied. Most of us take for granted our ability to perform daily house cleaning, maintenance and basic repairs. But that may change as you get older; taking care of your house may become a bit more difficult.
This question gets to the heart of your long-term home maintenance and your ability to live comfortably (and safely) at home as long as you want. You may need to formulate a plan to help you maintain your home when you can no longer do the work yourself. To get started, you’ll need to identify trusted service providers who can take on the tasks and figure out the recurring costs.
Friends, neighbors, family members and even your financial advisor are good referral sources. Ask for recommendations and draft a go-to roster of professionals who can help. Start by thinking about the types of home services you may need and their costs:
The vast majority of people want to live at home for as long as possible (often referred to as “aging in place”). If you’re among them, you’ll also want to start thinking about certain renovations (particularly those that safeguard against falling) that can help you do just that, their costs and the time it may take to make the changes to your home. Consult with an Aging-in-Place Specialist, certified by the National Association of Home Builders, to determine what features and styles you might want to install.
How Will I Get an Ice Cream?
An ice cream isn’t essential to everyday living, but what we’re really asking is how will you get something you want, when you want it? Part of living the good life is being able to easily participate in the little things that put a smile on your face. And it may well be a chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles.
While most of us can readily afford a sweet treat, the capacity to have that cone on demand requires reliable and safe transportation. Will you be able to drive? Walk? Take the bus? Can you afford to have a driver help you out, if need be? There may come a time when driving yourself is no longer possible, so it makes sense to explore other reliable means of transportation to help you get what you need as well as what you want. You want the freedom to be spontaneous, social, vital.
Who Will I Have Lunch With?
OK, we’re not talking about what to order. There’s no need to plan THAT far ahead. But lunch is so much more than a meal; it’s a social occasion. Who you have lunch with may be a good indicator of your social network. We’re talking friends you see on a regular basis who’ll support your healthy and active lifestyle, and on whom you and your significant other can depend for company or even help should the need arise.
Even with adequate finances, living alone without a robust social circle can threaten healthy aging. Will you rely on family for company? Your current friends? Neighbors? Will you have to widen your social circle as friends move closer to family or into retirement communities? Social interaction is important at any stage of life, but it can be particularly significant and life affirming when you’re in your 60s, 70s and 80s.
Consequently, planning where and with whom to retire may be as important as how much it will cost, if not more so. If you’re living alone in a far-off setting, you may not have easy access to the types of amenities, activities or, perhaps, even the people whom you enjoy. So you’ll need to consider how family, friends and advisors can help fill in the gaps, as needed.
Making the Connections
On the surface, these questions may not have much to do with retirement planning, but the answers they generate can predict how rich and satisfying your retirement years will be. It moves us away from finite costs and running numbers, and focuses instead on living a meaningful life and everything that entails. That includes real retirement concerns, like housing, transportation, the relationships and connections that make life worth living, and the decisions and planning that go along with them.
As you find some answers, your advisor can help you integrate these factors into your retirement plan and address any concerns you may have for the future. He or she can also connect you to healthcare and transportation services, contractors and other professionals to help you align all the components, and he or she can help you factor in the costs.